Being affluent and not knowing it

Americans are, for the most part, rich. I’m rich, for sure, though I didn’t start out that way.

But one of the worst things about privilege–any type, is that it makes you blind to it. You don’t see its invisible web, holding you up. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than class privilege or white privilege.

Andrew Gellman, political scientist at Columbia and one of my favorite academic bloggers, writes about Catherine Rampell’s story in the New York Times

Catherine Rampell highlights this stunning Gallup Poll result:

6 percent of Americans in households earning over $250,000 a year think their taxes are “too low.” Of that same group, 26 percent said their taxes were “about right,” and a whopping 67 percent said their taxes were “too high.”
OK, fine. Most people don’t like taxes. No surprise there. But get this next part:

And yet when this same group of high earners was asked whether “upper-income people” paid their fair share in taxes, 30 percent said “upper-income people” paid too little, 30 percent said it was a “fair share,” and 38 percent said it was too much.
30 percent of these upper-income people say that upper-income people pay too little, but only 6 percent say that they personally pay too little. 38% say that upper-income people pay too much, but 67% say they personally pay too much.

Gellmana and Rampell in general agree: the gap probably reflects ignorance about population statistics. Probably true, But I also suspect it reflects my basic point: if you’ve grown up affluent and remain affluent, you are unlikely to understand that you are, in fact, quite wealthy. In fact, you are likely to argue that you are middle income, since celebrity culture of the US surrounds you with images of the super super super rich, and since you are not them, you are probably on the average side of higher income but not really rich.

One thought on “Being affluent and not knowing it

  1. Smart song writers have even started writing songs about it.

    I’ve been to John Gorka live shows. Some of the best entertainment you can get, with his funny smart wandering patter between songs. Similar to Leo Kotke. He also has a few standard jokes he uses to intro songs. The schtick he does before this one is cute. He announces “This is a song about unearned advantage and family and cultural inheritance… I know what your saying. You’re saying ‘Oh another song like that.’ But bear with me, here.”

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